Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Fundamentally, the 12 Steps are a roadmap for change as well as a guide for living a rich and full life. Whether one calls it a spiritual awakening or something else is immaterial. Some folks do feel that they have undergone a monumental psychic shift as the result of working through the steps. Others feel that the change is more subtle.
I personally suspect that the degree to which one feels a change is highly dependent upon how circumstances of their active addiction. For an addict who found himself or herself living on the street, steeling to survive, and living in constant fear, the shift is undoubtedly monumental. But for others who managed to keep their outward lives together while they suffered existential dread internally the shift may seem less dramatic, at least from outward appearances.
Personally, it took more than the 12 Steps for me to feel a fundamental shift in my outlook on life. Specifically it has taken the support of friends and family as well as trauma therapy. I began trauma therapy about nine months ago and as I’ve learned what triggers me, how to recognize with these triggers, and how to be with these triggers in the moment, I have felt a calmness that I’ve never known before in my life.
Many people do find this calmness through the 12 Steps. I didn’t. I felt just the opposite for a long time because the 12 Steps tripped my triggers. I am triggered by the word God. I am triggered by the the notion of an omniscient, omnipresent, and benevolent deity. The root of these triggers are in my life experience. I suffered spiritual trauma when I was told that my birth father could never go to heaven because he died of suicide. Additionally, my life experience is at odds with the idea that there is a benevolent deity directing the world — my direct experience is the opposite. The universe is chaos.
And yet, I’ve learned to accept this. I’ve learned that even if the universe is chaotic, it can still be a power greater than myself. I’ve learned that the mystery of the universe shows me that there is something more out there. Something that deeply connects us to all other things in the universe.
Recently, I was reminded of the scientific Law of Conservation of Mass, which states that matter can not be created or destroyed. When I consume food, that matter gets converted into either cells in my body or waste. For my rational brain, this is proof enough of the interconnectedness of everything in the universe.
For the past few months, I’ve been attending a Unitarian Universalist church and have found in this church a welcoming of my skepticism. It’s as if I suddenly found a bunch of people who think like me. Who suspect that there is something out there but who may not always be sure. The church is welcoming of theists, non-theists, atheists and agnostics. There is very little dogma. They don’t tell me how to believe. And that’s what I needed. This is my spiritual tribe, at least for now.
Importantly, I couldn’t have considered attending this church without going through the therapy process. I needed to deprogram old thinking and old patterns of behavior that no longer served me.
In the 12th step, we are asked to carry the message to other alcoholics. I believe the message is simple. There is a way out of the horrors of addiction and we can have a happy, healthy, and full life without the bondage of addiction. In short, it is a message of hope.
That is what I felt when I came into the rooms in 2015, a great sense of hope. Hope that I could turn things around. Hope that I could feel better. Hope that I could get the monkey off my back. Hope that I could be free. Hope that I might live past fifty years old.
Interestingly, when I was in high school I knew the importance of hope. In a very dark time I scrawled out a short poem that likened life to a matchstick. It shines bright and strong. Intense and dramatic after being lit. And then it’s over. The poem asked the question, if there’s nothing more than this life “why even spark the match?” Years later, one of my teachers found this poem tucked inside my old social studies book and got it to my mother.
And so, when I was confronted in therapy with the question, “what does a God provide to people who believe?” I knew the answer even if I wasn’t ready to accept it. The answer is hope and meaning.
And hope was vital. Without hope, my recovery would not have been possible. And so, even if I don’t like the words, I’ve had what one might call a spiritual awakening.
We need to be able to see that there is a way out of the things that we struggle with. We need to see that our struggles are part of the human condition. All humans struggle with “character defects.” All humans have problems with their egos. All humans have thoughts that if given voice might cause others to pause, to be taken aback. There is nothing unique or special about alcoholics and addicts that predisposes us to these things. The difference is how we have attempted to cope. Alcoholics and addicts have attempted to numb the pain of being human. But numbing the pain doesn’t make it go away.
What helps in times of struggle is the belief that the present reality won’t always be the reality. That things can and will get better. It doesn’t matter what the struggle is — it may be addiction but it may be something else — the message of hope is the answer.
I carry the message of hope with me in my daily life. Through my words and actions, I share it with others who are struggling. Sometimes in one on one conversations, sometimes in tweets with the RecoveryPosse on Twitter, and sometimes here on this blog.